The Washington Post
Notes from the area, including girls’ soccer title hopefuls at Whitman.
When Montgomery County Public Schools announced in February that it would hold a condensed fall sports season in the spring, Whitman girls’ soccer coach Gregory Herbert knew he would face a difficult decision.
During the 2020-21 school year, Herbert supervised his sons, 6-year-old Brayden and 9-year-old Dawson, at their Germantown home while they participated in virtual learning. If he were to coach Whitman in Bethesda every afternoon, he would need to put his children in day care, which he didn’t feel comfortable doing because of the chance they would be exposed to the coronavirus.
Herbert didn’t want to put others at risk because his wife, Laura, works with immunocompromised patients at NIH Clinical Center, and his in-laws often visit their home. With short notice before the season, he couldn’t find someone else to coach the team.
So while the county’s other top teams practiced and played a few games in the spring, Herbert decided Whitman would conduct a virtual season.
“I still obviously feel very guilty about that,” said Herbert, who has led Whitman to a pair of Maryland 4A titles since he took over the program in 2005.
After a 22-month hiatus, Whitman returned to in-person activities last month. While the Vikings lost training time in the spring, Herbert said this year’s squad may feature the most talented players of any team he has coached. Whitman opened its season Saturday with a 2- 0 win over Holton-arms.
But Herbert felt most satisfied when, after a recent practice, several players expressed how happy they were to be playing for Whitman again.
— Kyle Melnick
The schedule did St. John’s no favors this year. The Cadets, coming off a long and destabilizing offseason like everyone else, opened by playing St. Albans, one of the few teams returning a fair amount of varsity talent this year. Those players had helped the Bulldogs capture a conference title in 2019, making St. Albans one of the buzziest teams of the preseason.
But what St. John’s lacks in experience it makes up for in depth. Cadets Coach Sal Caccavale noticed right away that early-season practices were especially energetic.
“Numbers one through 20 in our roster are all competing for playing time,” Caccavale said. “The boys knew there would be a lot of in-house competition for spots, and that fostered an early surge of passion. It’s a next-manup attitude right now.”
St. John’s showed plenty of passion in a 3- 0 win over St. Albans to start the season, and it has not relented yet. Wins over Paul VI and Wilson followed.
“I’m proud that kids took it upon themselves this past year to get better,” Caccavale said. “We haven’t been able to do much as a team, but these kids knew what they needed to do on their own. Coming back in, we’ve seen huge improvements.”
Kevin Shirk has big shoes to fill at Loudoun Valley. After leaving Winchester’s Millbrook High, Shirk took over for Joan and Marc Hunter, who won 19 state championships as a wifeand-husband coaching tandem before leaving for professional running team Tinman Elite this summer.
“At first it was kind of intimidating because anybody who’s outside the program has heard about the Hunters and Loudoun Valley,” Shirk said. “But it only took a few weeks to realize it’s just like taking over any other program. . . . My philosophies aren’t very different from the Hunters’.”
Two meets in, he’s feeling pretty good. The Vikings wrapped up their second meet of the year with a win at the Oatlands Invitational as the boys’ team posted an average time of 17:02.
The girls’ team did not have enough runners to place because of several minor issues (food poisoning, injuries and tweaks) that Shirk said he did not want to risk.
Crofton is a young team in every sense. Founded in 2020, the program hasn’t played a single varsity game. Its coach, former Broadneck star Amy Strickus, is only in her second season, the first spent with the junior varsity. Her players, all juniors or younger, are similarly inexperienced, having never suited up in a Cardinals uniform.
However, the players are all from talent-rich areas, neighborhoods that used to feed into successful programs such as Arundel and South River. That talent was on full display during the school’s one junior varsity season: This young group tore through the competition, going 7- 0.
The core of that team, including junior defenseman Emma Beyer and junior midfielder Abby Jeffries, is back with another year of experience, and Crofton clearly has made an impression — multiple coaches in the area said they expect the Cardinals to be serious challengers this year, both in the county and in 3A at the state level.
— Varun Shankar
While some area schools shortened their seasons in 2020, most D.C. programs eschewed the year entirely. With that much time off, coaches have to incorporate two years of students on the fly.
Brandon Wiest, the coach of Georgetown Day, has had a relatively easy adaptation even as his Grasshoppers have missed so much time.
Wiest said he has never had a more talented group of underclassmen, and the upperclassmen have been instrumental in guiding the young players between points.
Dynasties are tough to topple, but Georgetown Day is gaining ground on St. John’s and its streak of seven consecutive D.C. State Athletic Association titles.
The Grasshoppers began the season with a 25-1 triumph in their first set, the largest singleset victory in Wiest’s tenure.
The season got off to a rocky start for St. John’s, the 2019 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion, with a 5-2 defeat to Sidwell Friends on Friday.
“I saw this as a learning opportunity for us,” Coach Shaun Nguyen said. “It’s helping them really stay humble and know that, as good as St. John’s is, there are better teams, and they want to do better.”
Nguyen said he has a strong foundation of leaders looking for a repeat of their 2019 title. He’s hopeful the players will build more resilience when trailing in matches.
“Maintaining a champion mentality — the girls don’t really get complacent when they’re winning in a match,” Nguyen said. “But then they do get down on themselves when something goes wrong. And it’s realizing that . . . there’s no clock, and it’s not over till you play that last point.”
St. John’s has its first WCAC match next week against St. Mary’s Ryken.